I often find it a challenge in the morning to get my children to eat their breakfast quickly before we rush out of the door to get to school on time, a daily occurrence that many parents can probably relate to. I am conscious how lucky they are to even get breakfast every morning as there are countless children around the world who go to school on an empty stomach, making it hard for them to focus on their lessons. Many do not even have the luxury of an education as they have to help provide for their families from a young age by tending livestock or working in the fields.
That is why I am proud to work for the World Food Programme (WFP), which champions the provision of school meals to not only give all children the opportunity to focus on their books and not their stomachs but as an incentive for families to send their children to school, particularly girls. School meals are an investment in the next generation, helping ensure every child has access to education, health and nutrition.
Feeding future leaders
A child who completes school becomes a reliable adult who can support him/herself as well as their families. They can engage in gainful employment; they are able to read and write and can manage their own businesses; they are able to use modern technology; and they can participate in the economic development of their communities among other benefits.
WFP no longer just provides food directly to schools but where feasible is increasingly supporting home-grown school meals programmes by linking them to local agriculture. Smallholder farmers supply commodities to schools within their localities, stimulating local economic development by increasing farmers’ incomes and creating additional jobs for a wide range of stakeholders involved in getting the food from the field to the classroom. Promoting sustainability and community ownership makes home-grown school meals a win- win for farmers and school children.
In 2016, over two million children across East and Central Africa benefitted from WFP school meals, with most of the countries operating home-grown school meal programmes. Below is an overview of just some of these programmes.
In partnership with the Government of Djibouti, WFP supports a school meals programme, which enables all school-aged children in rural areas and semi-urban areas of Djibouti city to have access to basic education. School meals help to increase enrolment and attendance at schools. Many children in Djibouti rely on WFP’s school feeding programmes as their only guaranteed food every day, which protects them against hunger and malnutrition.
Salsabila Ibrahim Mohamoud, 11 years old, from Dickhil in Djibouti, was a winner of the 2017 global WFP Children’s Design Competition and is one of the students benefiting from these programmes. Salsabila and 17,000 children receive a morning snack and a hot lunch. WFP also provides take-home rations of vegetable oil to girls like Salsabila in grades three to five to, encourage parents to send their daughters to school
Like many girls her age, Salsabila loves to dress up as a princess while playing in the courtyard of her house with sisters and brothers. When asked where she sees herself in the future, her answer is immediate: “I would like to become the Minister of Education so I can give to all children the school of my dreams and continue the school meals to give them energy to study in Djibouti.”
Over 464,000 children in 691 schools throughout Burundi are fed at school through the home-grown school meals programme. Fresh vegetables, fortified flour and enriched vegetable oil help overcome major deficiencies in primary school children, including vitamin A and iron deficiencies, which both affect learning abilities. In 2017, a WFP pilot included using local UHT milk in school meals for 40,000 children.
WFP aims to procure up to half of its food from local farmers by supporting the establishment of local farmer cooperatives. Last year WFP purchased 3,500 metric tons of local commodities — 31 percent of all food bought for school meals — injecting US$3 million into the local economy.
“We don’t worry any more because we eat well here at school. And even our parents don’t worry any more about what we eat at lunch time,” explains Yolande Nshimirimana, a 9th grader. “Kids stay at school because we eat well here.”
Thanks to the school feeding programme, dropout rates have decreased from 15 percent (2014) to 5 percent (2017). The Government of Burundi has recognized the programme as one of the key interventions to enrol and keep children from food-insecure provinces at school, especially girls. WFP is working to achieve further integration of school meals, nutrition, health and smallholders’ capacity building programmes, within its new interim strategic plan 2018–2020 for Burundi.
The home-grown school feeding programme is relatively new in Rwanda and aims to boost the literacy and health of 83,000 primary-school children in the most poor and food-insecure districts of Nyamagabe, Nyaruguru, Rutsiro and Karongi.
Children are not just provided with a school meal but taught about good nutrition and hygiene practices, through mixed approaches such as traditional dances, poems and art. School vegetable gardens are also being established so that children learn about growing healthy crops.
In the home-grown school feeding concept, WFP empowers the local community to own and sustain the programme. As a result, the local community, including parents, provide in-kind contributions such as fuel and labour to become more resilient and self-reliant.
The Government of Kenya will completely take over school feeding in Kenya this year after more than three decades of joint WFP-Government programming.
Currently, WFP is directly giving a hot lunch to 479,000 children in Nairobi, Garissa, Mandera, Turkana and Wajir Counties — the last counties to be handed over to the Government.
School feeding is ongoing in areas under the Government-led, resourced home grown school meals programme which is reaching an additional 1.2 million children in arid and selected semi-arid counties.
In partnership with the Government of Kenya, WFP has provided hot lunches to school-going children in Kenya since the 1980s. Initially, WFP solely provided the support for this programme with donor funds. But a more sustainable model needed to be in place. The transition of school meals to Government ownership started in 2009, with the launch of a national home-grown meals programme, a model which allows the Government to transfer cash to schools instead of in-kind food deliveries. WFP is supporting the hand-over process through training, joint missions and exchange of staff to build national capacity in procurement, data collection, reporting, monitoring and evaluation, and programme management.
Read more about WFP’s school meals programmes around the world here